Basline Mansionization Ordinance Revisions and New R1 Zones Approved by City Council

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On Wednesday, March 8, the Los Angeles City Council took its final approval votes on proposed new revisions to the city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, a new set of R1 zone options for single-family neighborhoods, and the application of specific R1 options to 15 individual neighborhoods that have been under Interim Control Ordinances to provide some temporary protection against teardowns and mansionization while the other ordinances are being revised. (Those ICOs will expire later this month.)

The BMO revisions have been in the works for about two years now, in an effort to close loopholes in the city’s previous BMO, enacted in 2008, which turned out to encourage – rather than discourage – the building of oversized new homes in established neighborhoods.  During the revision process, neighbors, developers, real estate professionals and city officials tussled with details including optimal floor area ratios for new homes, massing and “envelope” patterns for new construction, whether or not things like porches, patios, garages and basements should be included in square footage calculations, whether there should or shouldn’t be rules about where garages should be placed on lots, and many other details.

The new BMO now limits the floor area ratio (percentage of building square footage to lot size) to .45, adds rules for encroachment planes (how a building has to slope away from its widest dimensions at a certain height), and eliminates square footage exceptions for covered patios and porches, and green building features, which turned out to be one of the biggest loopholes in the old BMO.   Most of those things had been advocated for by neighborhood activists, including NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles, which led the BMO reformation fight.

The one big compromise in the BMO as finally passed was the square footage of garages, and whether or not that footage should be counted in a home’s FAR.  In the 2008 BMO, up to 400 square feet of garage space was exempted from FAR calculations, which neighborhood activists said created much bulkier homes than the calculations otherwise allowed for.  They fought to have the garage exemptions removed entirely, but the final version is a compromise:  the first 200 square feet of garage space is exempted, but any amount more than that will count toward the total FAR calculation.

The second part of the new zoning package that received final City Council approval yesterday is a group of new R1 single family zone definitions, dubbed “Neighborhood Conservation” zones, which neighborhoods will be able to choose from if they prefer stricter rules than those outlined in the more general BMO (which will be the default regulation for R1 neighborhoods).  The new R1 zones provide a menu of more slightly detailed single-family zoning options, which include directives for the massing patterns of new homes (e.g. bulk at the back of the building, bulk at the front, or variable), and a special “RG” designation, which – if adopted by individual neighborhoods – requires that garages be located at the rear of the property, to better match established patterns in older neighborhoods.

The final piece of the package adopted by the Council yesterday is an ordinance that applies specific R1 designations to 15 neighborhoods – including Citrus Square, La Brea-Hancock and Larchmont Heights in our area – which have been protected by Interim Control Ordinances while the BMO and new R1 details were being worked out.

The three new ordinances are now awaiting the Mayor’s signature, and will go into effect as soon as they’re signed and then published by the city…which, according to the LandUseLA blog, shich has been closely tracking this issue, could be as soon as March 13.  And that will finally bring some closure to this long process for our three local neighborhoods, and others that have been working on this issue for the last two years.

Barbara Savage, president of the La Brea-Hancock Homeowners Association, who has been in the thick of the fight with that neighborhood, expressed both satisfaction with the process…and thanks to those who have seen it through, both locally and at the city level.  Among those she singled out for their particular efforts were La Brea-Hancock Vice President Bob Eisele (“for communicating and rallying the troops”) and the city officials and departments involved in shepherding the revision process, including City Council Members David Ryu and Paul Koretz, as well as the City Council Plum Committee, the Department of City Planning, and the Department of Building and Safety.  In summary, “Government works if you work it,” said Savage.

“Government works if you work it.”  — Barbara Savage, La Brea-Hancock Homeowners’ Association

Finally, Savage also expressed great thanks to Shelley Wagers, who heads NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles.

Wagers told the Buzz that she, too, happy with the results of this lengthy process. “The amended citywide ordinances provide much better protection from mansionization,” she said. “They reduce the size of the house relative to the lot and eliminate most bonuses and exemptions.”

Wagers also noted that:

“Most single-family properties in Los Angeles are modest-size “R-1” lots, and these neighborhoods have been hardest hit by mansionization, so they will see the greatest improvement. As an example, on a 6,000 sq ft R-1 lot, you can currently build almost 4,400 sq ft. When the amendments become effective (probably within the next week or so), the limit will be a little over 3,000 sq ft, depending on where the garage is placed.

Instead of boxy hulks that hem in their neighbors, the ordinances will allow comfortable family homes that fit in with their neighborhoods. Home size will also come down significantly in suburban and rural zones, and the amendments put a stop to excessive grading and hauling in hillside areas.”

Wagers expressed slight disappointment at the garage floor space compromise, but acknowledged that “we had to accept” it to gain the other improvements. “Residents and homeowners really wanted to front-facing attached garages to count as floor space, but we had to accept a compromise that counts only half the square footage. The amended ordinances are not perfect,” she said, “but they cut McMansions down to size and help stop the speculation that has made so many properties unaffordable.”

Finally, Wagers also singled out for thanks one particular city champion: “Without Paul Koretz, none of this would have happened. He led the charge and kept the pressure on for almost three years. His leadership helped make LA neighborhoods more livable, more environmentally sustainable, and more affordable.”

In addition to the three local neighborhoods that had their new R1 rules approved yesterday, two other local neighborhoods, Brookside and Sycamore Square, are still in the pipeline for such actions.  Both of those areas are currently protected under ICOs that will expire in 2018…and now that the neighborhoods covered by the expiring-this-year ICOs have chosen their permanent R1 options, the 2018 neighborhoods will be among the next group to work through that process with city officials.

 

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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - first in the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and since 2012 in West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill. She was long-time board member of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, currently serves on the board of the West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill Neighborhood Association, spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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